The National Guard recently completed testing of a new long-range Hellfire air-to-surface missile. The test revealed that the new missile dramatically extended the Hellfire’s range—by a factor of three.
A press release covering the recent testing reads:
“The Air National Guard Air Force Reserve Command Test Center (AATC) recently took part in Valiant Shield 2022, a 12-day joint training exercise aimed at bolstering the collaborative ability of U.S. Military forces by conducting integrated operations with the Air Force, Army, Navy and Marine Corps.”
The Hellfire missile is the United States' primary 100-pound air-launched anti-tank missile. Developed during the Cold War to decimate Soviet armor, the Hellfire found use in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Though American forces did not face a substantial Afghan or Iraqi armored threat after the initial invasions, the Hellfire missile gave the Predator drone a significant firepower boost and supported troops on the ground.
The statement explained that “during the exercise, AATC led a successful test of the new AGM-114 R-4 long range hellfire missile and the associated weaponeering software. The modified Hellfire missile can fly roughly three times as far as previous versions and resulted in the longest Hellfire shot taken to date.”
It added that “the test demonstrated the AGM-114 R-4’s ability to double the [MQ-9 Reaper drone’s] standoff range, giving the ability to engage threats while maintaining a safe distance out of the threats ability to counter-strike, which is crucial to survivability in a contested environment.”
Depending on the variant, the Hellfire missile has a range of 8,000 to 11,000 meters. This latest Hellfire missile test reached at least 20,000 kilometers, and possibly as far as 33,000 kilometers—an incredibly significant boost.
Though recent improvements to the Predator’s hardware and software now allow the drone to fly with eight Hellfire missiles, that platform’s future is far from certain. The Predator excelled in conflicts where the United States exercised complete control from the air.
However, in a conflict against a peer or near-peer enemy—such as China or Russia—the rather slow-flying and decidedly non-stealth Predator would likely not survive. One of the solutions to keeping platforms like the Predator relevant, however, is extending the range of its munitions and therefore keeping the drone out of harm’s way.
Regardless of the extended-range Hellfire missile’s ability to keep the Predator relevant, extending the missile’s range will benefit all service branches and allies that use the American missile.
Caleb Larson is a multimedia journalist and defense writer with the National Interest. A graduate of UCLA, he also holds a Master of Public Policy and lives in Berlin. He covers the intersection of conflict, security, and technology, focusing on American foreign policy, European security, and German society for both print and radio. Follow him on Twitter @calebmlarson.